"The Torch" -- Story for the "Phoenix Moment" Challenge
stmargarets, whose hobby seems to be telling me things I can't get out of my head, suggested that I enter the "Phoenix Moment" Challenge that is being run on The Sugar Quill, Fiction Alley, and the Leaky Cauldron. Today the pressure became unbearable and I wrote the thing. I'll probably submit it, after giving bandcandya chance to tell me what I've done wrong.
Here's the wording of the Challenge:
"A Phoenix Moment: A phoenix moment is a moment in the Harry Potter series, real or imagined, when someone displays one or more traditional traits of the phoenix, whether transformation, loyalty, heroism or something else. The moment and the interpretation are up to you, as is your medium. Fiction, art and essays are all welcome and will be judged in separate divisions."
And here's the story. Size limit was 1,500 words.
On her twentieth birthday, Hermione Granger went to Hogwarts to say goodbye.
She Apparated into the empty streets of Hogsmeade and trudged up the path to the silent castle. The school’s defenses apparently still recognized her as a student and let her in with no fuss.
Grass was growing tall in the courtyards; Argus Filch still lived there, but his heart wasn’t in grounds maintenance these days. But the place was still tidy. The House Elves continued to work. There were more ghosts than before, but that was to be expected. Some of them were people she recognized, but it wasn’t clear whether they recognized her.
She entered Gryffindor Tower; the portrait of the fat lady didn’t bother asking her for a password. Inside it was silent.
The last witch in Britain sat down in the common room to brood.
Hermione had identified the spell, but it was Harry who insisted that they use it, and that Hermione herself perform the anchor charm. Hermione had pleaded, saying that DeCamp’s Reflective Curse always obliterated not only the target but also the initiator. He’d be killed, she cried, and probably Ron would too.
He’d said, “This is how we have to do it. The Horcruxes may be gone, but there’s no other way of trapping and destroying a wizard as powerful as Voldemort. The Reflective Curse is all we’ve got. You have to be the anchor; you’re the only one with the skill to handle it.”
So she had given in, kissing Ron on the lips and hugging Harry for dear life, begging them to take whatever precautions they could. Then she’d stepped back, got control of herself and cast the anchor charm for the Reflective Curse.
And it had worked. Voldemort had vanished in a flash of pale blue light. And so had Harry; and so had Ron. Hermione had sat upon the ground and wept, swearing that she would tell the whole wizarding world of her best friends’ sacrifice.
But there was no one to tell.
DeCamp’s Reflective Curse seeks out and obliterates humans with magical abilities. It is a wizard-killer. The mandatory caster of the anchor charm is safe because of the inertial vectors of the spell, but all other witches and wizards within its range wink out of existence. Throughout the history of its use, there had never been more than two or three victims. But no one had ever tried to use this spell with two wizards as powerful as Harry and Voldemort; no one had considered that the range of the charm might increase with the magical potential of the initiator and the target. In retrospect, she calculated that the radius must increase as an exponential function of their combined power level.
There were no wizards left in Britain. Not a wizard, not a witch, not a magical child. The Weasleys were gone. Hogwarts was empty. Everyone she’d met since the age of eleven had vanished without a trace. The Muggles had noticed the mass disappearances, but never connected them with magic; Hermione had been in no state of mind to explain it.
They had destroyed Voldemort – and committed the genocide of the wizarding world.
Her parents had taken her back into their house and cared for her. For the first few months she found it cruel even to get out of bed in the morning, and she’d spent her time thinking up ever more creative and pointless ways of punishing herself. She knew that no amount of research would have uncovered the disastrous exponential impact of the spell, but she found it hard not to think of herself as a murderer. She alternated between bone-cold grief and nauseating guilt.
Eventually she’d begun performing the occasional spell to help around the house (there was no one to enforce the Statute of Secrecy now), and tried to think of what to do with her life. Mum and Dad tried to talk her into reading Dentistry at university, or reading History and becoming a professor. It seemed as good a plan as any other. But first, she’d decided, she had to say goodbye to her old life.
Well, there was no point spending the whole day in the common room. Hermione visited all her old haunts: the Transfiguration classroom, the Great Hall, the Astronomy Tower, and of course her beloved Library. She thought about how she could spend years just drinking in the contents of those books. But what would be the point?
With some hesitation, she went to the Headmaster’s office.
“There’s no Headmaster and no students,” she told the guardian gargoyle. “You might as well let me in.” Apparently the statue agreed, for the door opened and the revolving staircase was revealed.
The office was just as she remembered it, save for some touches that Professor McGonagall had added during her tenure. The portraits were all sound asleep; no one had spoken to them in over a year. The Sorting Hat was on a shelf. When she entered, the familiar tear opened up and it spoke.
“Hello, Miss Granger,” it said. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“Hello,” said Hermione uncertainly. “How are you? You must have been lonely for the last year or so.”
“Not really; there’s lots of company inside my ‘head,’ as it were.” She didn’t know quite what to say to that.
“What will you do now?” She asked. In the silent office the question bounced back at her off the walls.
“Oh, I’ll just wait for the next Sorting,” said the Hat placidly.
Something snapped inside of her; the floodgates opened.
“You stupid Hat!” Hermione found herself shouting. “There won’t be a next Sorting! Never again! Never, never , never – ” She collapsed into the Headmaster’s chair and wept into her arms on the desk, wept yet again for all she had lost, all she had loved that had deserted her.
As usual, she felt a little better after she’d cried her eyes out. She pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve and blew her nose, looking dully around the room. In the corner she saw a bookstand with a thick book and a quill sitting on it. Her curiosity getting the better of her even at a moment like this, she approached the corner, still sniffling a little, and looked at the cover:
Register of Students Accepted into HogwartsSchool
This was the book, then: the book in which all their names were written as they were born, the book that magically predicted their attendance at the school. She wondered idly whether a name was erased when the student finally began to attend the school, or when she left, or when she died. If the latter, then Hermione’s would be the only name there. She opened it with some misgivings.
There were names going back a thousand years – tens of thousands of names written in tiny quill-scratches. A name, a birth date, a date of matriculation, over and over for hundreds of pages. Hermione was fascinated in spite of herself. She paged through the heavy volume, stopping to look at famous names she recognized, then the names of her teachers, then the names of her friends.
Then she turned to the last page.:
Roger Lancelyn Barton
Born 17 July 1998
Enters 1 September 2009
Mary Chanter Song
Born 1 August 1998
Enters 1 September 2009
Linda Norfolk Howard
Born 15 August 1998
Enters 1 September 2009
Thomas Harrison George
Born 30 September 1998
Enters 1 September 2010
Melinda Leona Scribe
Born 19 October 1998
Enters 1 September 2010
Hermione’s eyes widened. There were fifteen more names that apparently were to “enter” in 2010. The last name said:
Edward Kenneth Mason
Born 18 September 1999
Enters 1 September 2011
“Born yesterday,” Hermione breathed.
She understood: magical abilities regularly appear as a rare but reliable mutation among Muggle-born children. Children like her. New magical children. The castle was registering them as students, although there was no one there to teach them. Hermione put her hand over her mouth in astonishment.
“I think you may need our help, Hermione,” came a sleepy voice from behind her.
She turned around and saw the portrait of Minerva McGonagall, looking somewhat bleary-eyed but smiling at her.
“Why?” she asked.
“We are pledged, you know, to serve the current Headmistress,” beamed McGonagall, stifling a yawn.
Hermione’s heart beat more loudly and she felt dizzy when she realized the import of her former teacher’s words. She stumbled back to the chair behind the desk and sat down with a thump.
Three students would be ready to enter in 2009. Seventeen would be ready in 2010. More would be ready in 2011. There was no one left to teach them.
No one but she.
It seemed impossible – Potions, Transfiguration, Arithmancy, all of it. When the school was founded, she thought sourly, it had four teachers. She was only one.
But she had nine years and 347 days in which to prepare.